Thursday, February 02, 2006

Interview With An Academic 

A longtime friend of mine, Don Bates of Media Distribution Services, suggested that I interview a friend of his, John Pavlik, Ph.D., Professor and Chair, Dept. of Journalism and Media Studies; Director, The Journalism Resources Institute at the Rutgers School of Communication, Information, and Library Studies (SCILS).

Dr. Pavlik was kind enough to answer my questions, which are focused on changes in journalism education. Here then is the interview with Dr. Pavlik.

Question: How is journalism teaching changing in an era of declining newspapers, fragmenting TV and rise of online publishing from web sites through community news and blogs?

Answer: There are many changes happening, but basically there is a recommitment to teaching students the fundamentals of critical thinking, writing and research. Beyond that, students are learning about the changing world of media, convergence in a digital, networked environment, and how to report through new media. Students are learning about the impact of new media in at least four ways: 1) how the work of media professionals is changing, 2) how the content of media is changing, 3) how the structure, culture and management of media organizations is changing, and 4) and how the relationships between or among media and their publics are changing, including relationships with the audience (which is increasingly actively communicating and not just receiving media content), competitors, sources, funders and regulators of media in a global arena.

Question: Where are your graduates going to work these days and what kinds of salaries are they able to get?

Answer: Graduates in journalism and media need to be increasingly flexible and adaptable. They need to be willing to relocate. They need to consider starting in small markets. They need to get internship experience while in school. There are increasing opportunities in new media, including online, and for freelance work. Salaries are not always what they were in the dot com boom, but there are opportunities for entry-level work and for advancement. Salaries are up compared to five or six years ago. An annual salary survey(http://www.grady.uga.edu/ANNUALSURVEYS/center.htm) shows that the median salary earned by graduates of journalism and media programs in 2004 nationally was $27,800, compared to $26,988 in 2000.

Question: The pay scales don't seem much different than when I graduated from University of Missouri in the mid-1970s. Is my perspective accurate?

Answer: Yes, the situation isn’t much improved. If journalism and media isn’t one’s calling, then it’s not probably going to be satisfying, at least from a financial perspective.)

Question: Who is the typical journalism student at Rutgers? Is he or she a person who is already net savvy and perhaps, already writing a blog?

Answer: Rutgers is among the most diverse schools in the nation, and those students who study journalism and media are no exception. It's very difficult to provide a single profile of all our students. Our graduates are well versed in the fundamentals of good journalism and media practices. They know how to report and write. They know about new media trends and developments. They know about blogs and podcasts, and many produce their own (in my courses, students are required to create a blog). They are adept at online and off-line research. They have sharp critical thinking skills and a keen sense of ethics.

Question: How has the decline of mass media affected your view of journalism?

Answer: Our program has adapted. A decade ago, our program was called, "Journalism and Mass Communication." Today, the department is called, "Journalism and Media Studies." The faculty long recognized the shifting media landscape. Media are more important in people's lives than ever before. But, media are increasingly personalized, interactive and dynamic. The audience is increasingly actively engaged with media. The role of journalism and media is changing and we focus largely on that changing landscape.

Question: What now do you see as the future of journalism and how do you counsel students seeking journalism careers?

Answer: Predicting the future of any field is fraught with difficulties and challenges, and likely to be wrong. But, since you asked, I'll hazard an educated guess. I envision a system of journalism and media that is increasingly convergent, digital and online, mobile and interactive, on-demand, real-time and expensive. Privacy and freedom of speech will be valued by the citizenry but under assault on a variety of fronts, both domestic and international. Journalism will be more important than ever, but who is a journalist will be a fundamental question. Bloggers and podcasters will be right along side journalists and traditional news media. Ethics and independence of thought will be principles that will differentiate the good from the bad and ugly in the future of journalism.

Question: Would you care to comment further on the good, bad and ugly in journalism? Will journalism’s future be much different from journalism’s past?

Answer: One of the bad or ugly aspects of free speech is that sometimes it can be offensive. Sometimes, sloppy reporting can lead to inaccurate reporting. Lack of fact checking can lead to published errors, and these can have serious consequences. Reporting in real-time and without reliable sources can lead to the spreading of unfounded rumors and this has been seen online as well as off. Leaks can produce damaging misinformation. But, as Thomas Jefferson once said, “Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”

Question: Are you teaching convergence journalism skills in which the reporter does everything from filming through blogging and article writing?

Answer: We have courses that feature convergent thinking and practices, and a curriculum that reflects these ideas. However, good, solid critical thinking, interviewing, writing and reporting power the engine. But, that said, students learn about new ways of gathering information made possible through convergence, and they learn new ways to tell stories in an online, interactive and mobile media system.

Question: Is there anything else that I should have asked to understand how journalism teaching is changing in the internet era?

Answer: I would only add that the most important thing for journalism and media students to learn while in school in this era is that the world is continually changing and what they learn is school is only the beginning of a lifetime of learning. The most important lesson they can take away from school is how to learn. Technology will continue to evolve and emerging new media may radically transform the world. Lifelong learning and adaptation is needed by our students if they are to achieve a lifetime of success as chroniclers of the truth.

Question: What happens, in your opinion, to journalists and others when they leave the academic environment that so many apparently fail to keep up?

Answer: I think keeping up with the changing world, especially as it moves forward at a blistering pace, is a daunting task. It underscores the value of continuing education, and this is something we specialize in at the Journalism Resources Institute. I’d like to see us be able to expand and do even more and serve even more journalists and news/media organizations.

Thank you, Dr. Pavlik, for the insights.


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